If you're moving to Miami, one thing you'll want to know about if you have kids is the school system. Unlike many states, Florida does not have separate city and county school systems. Instead, each of Florida's counties is one school system, run by an elected School Board.
This makes Miami-Dade County Public Schools the fourth largest school system in the nation, based on number of students enrolled, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. It educates more than 350,000 students each year.
Getting Ready for the Miami-Dade School Year
The school year usually runs mid-August through mid-May. Most years, the state of Florida offers a tax-free shopping weekend, where back-to-school shoppers don't have to pay sales tax on clothes, school supplies and sometimes computers.
The Miami-Dade Public School District offers an online Back to School Toolkit in English, Spanish, and Creole. Among the questions the toolkit answers are what immunizations are required, when transportation is provided and what students are and aren't allowed to wear.
School attendance is required for any child who turns 6 by February 1, and students must attend school through age 16. Kindergarten is not required, but it is available to any child who has turned 5 by September 1.
To enroll for the first time, a student must provide an original birth certificate, verification of age and legal name, proof of a physical examination including a tuberculosis screening and immunizations, two verifications of parents' address, and fill out several district-supplied forms. Students can enroll at any time but, obviously, the sooner the better.
Florida also offers a free voluntary pre-kindergarten program, open to any student who has turned 4 by September 1. Parents can opt to delay a year and enroll a child at age 5, but students can attend the free pre-K program for only one year.
In most Miami-Dade schools, students are required to wear uniforms in from kindergarten through eighth grade.
The vaccination rules are the same throughout Florida. To enter pre-K, students must have a second dose of the MMR vaccine, plus be vaccinated against hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. Additional vaccinations are required to enter some other grades.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools offers after-school programs at all public elementary schools and some middle schools. The programs last until 6 p.m. and include homework assistance, arts and crafts, games, snacks and recreational activities. Some programs offer tutoring and enrichment programs, such as music, drama, chess or computer labs. After-school care is $40 per week.
Some schools offer before-school programs that start an hour before the school day. Those programs are supervised quiet activities. Before-school care is $20 per week.
Free breakfast is provided at all schools to all students every day. Regular-price lunches are $2.25 for elementary students and $2.50 for high-school students. Reduced-price lunch is 40 cents a day. Many students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but you have to fill out an application with income information for your child to receive that benefit.
Alternatives to Miami-Dade County Schools
Students are assigned to schools by neighborhood, but Miami-Dade also offers a large selection of charter schools and magnet schools at all grade levels. Application for magnet schools opens October 1 every year, and admission is competitive for many of the high-ranked programs.
There also are schools that offer International Baccalaureate programs and dual-language programs aimed at graduating students who are fluent in English plus Spanish, French or German. Vocational training programs and career academies to prepare students for jobs also are available.
Additionally, Miami-Dade County has hundreds of private schools, including Catholic elementary and high schools, Christian schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools and secular schools.
Parents who choose to homeschool their children are required to notify the school district in writing and follow state requirements for homeschooling.
Florida also offers a Florida Virtual School online, which can be used by homebound students, homeschoolers or students who are traveling. It's a state school, free to Florida residents. Students who attend regular school can take enrichment courses online.
Miami Colleges & Other Alternatives After High School
It's not just children who are heading back to school. Miami-Dade County has half a dozen four-year-universities, including the public Florida International University, as well as trade schools. Its community college, Miami Dade College, has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any college in the country, serving more than 90,000 students a year on multiple campuses.
Florida students who meet specific test-score, grade-point average and community service requirements are eligible for lottery-funded Florida Bright Futures scholarships that cover 100 percent of their tuition at a state school or a specified amount at an approved private program. The scholarships are available to graduates of public schools, private schools, homeschools and GED programs and are renewable every year.
Featured image via Flickr